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Seeking to follow the teachings of Jesus

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Sunday 13th August 2017

Mathew 14. 22-33

May I speak in the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  

Most people love messing about in boats, children will turn a box into a pirate’s ship or Viking Galley, most of us love the sea and water calms and settles us; we put our children in little boats at the seaside to keep them safe in the waves and we create sports to enjoy the thrills of travelling by boat. Being immersed in water holds us up, it feels good. We learn to respect the seas in the knowledge that boats can sink, but even when sunk, we love to dive down to the depths and explore or retrieve them. Just look at the amazing story of the Mary Rose! Boats are part of our human experience and have presented us with freedom and movement and trading with other nations. One of our proudest songs, “Rule Britannia, Britannia rules the waves” is a celebration of our pride in our Navy and seafaring traditions.

So I was delighted to discover that not only a fish but also a boat was one of the earliest symbols for Christianity and the church, as many stories in the Bible centre around boats, the sea and fishing. It was part of Jesus’ everyday life and the things most familiar to those he attracted to His side. Jesus taught from a boat, He involved Himself in the fishing exploits of His followers and He clearly loved to walk along the shore. The story today indicates why the symbol of a boat was attractive: when surrounded by adversity, safety and salvation are experienced in the church with Jesus in its midst. But a boat is not a static symbol. It is a vehicle used to get somewhere.

So let’s look at this wonderful story in a little more detail. about Jesus and Peter, and the account of “walking on water”

I think I know what you are expecting. It’s the “get out of the boat and put your faith into action with extraordinary deeds” sermon isn’t it? And the sermon concludes, “be courageous, get out of the boat, but keep your focus on Jesus”. Well actually, you should know me by now and my message is the opposite,” stay in the boat!!” I’m not going to commend Peter for stepping out of the boat, nor am I going to do the part where the preacher says, “and when you take your eyes off Jesus and look at the winds howling around you will sink, but He will catch you and take you back to the safety of the boat.” No I am not going to say that at all!

This recollection by Matthew is a wonderful encouragement for people to put their faith into action, but what if there is a deeper message and there is another way to look at this well loved account of a moment in the lives of several people. This isn’t just about Peter, he was with all the others on a mission for Jesus and we have no account of the others congratulating Peter for doing pretty well. The real hero in the story is Jesus, whom the disciples worship (for the first time in Matthew’s gospel) as the Son of God

Jesus has sent His disciples ahead of Him so that after dismissing the crowds and retiring for a time of prayer and fellowship with His Father, Jesus was ready to join them and help them with their mission. They knew He would be joining them but as they were well out into the Lake, I wonder if they had asked themselves how Jesus would meet up with them again. They had been told to go on ahead and off they went.

This story can be read in parallel with another boat story The Stilling of the Storm account in 8:23-27. In the first story, there is a great storm, waves swamp the boat, and the disciples fear for their lives while Jesus sleeps. Waking him up with the plea, "Lord, save us!" Jesus calls them "ones of little faith," rebukes the winds and sea, and brings about the calm. In response, the disciples are amazed and can only wonder what sort of person Jesus is that "even the winds and sea obey him

In contrast, in today’s story, there is again wind and waves, but no storm, and the disciples are not fearing for their lives. What does cause them to be afraid is seeing someone walking on the water and thinking it's a ghost. Jesus reassures them without scolding as before, and then Peter poses his challenge to Jesus. He steps out of the boat but starts to sink because he "sees the wind," becomes afraid, and cries out "Lord, save me!" (Note the similar wording to the previous time.) Jesus grabs hold of him, and this time only Peter is called "one of little faith" and questioned for doubting. The wind simply ceases once Jesus gets into the boat, but this time the disciples worship Him as the Son of God

We can see what has developed between these two stories. The disciples' fear is more reasonable the second time: Jesus is not physically with them, they are safe in the boat where Jesus has asked them to be, but the phantasm they see approaching them is beyond anything they have experienced. The main difference, of course, is Peter's request for Jesus to identify Himself by enabling him to walk on the water. Maybe we have something different to learn here and Peter isn’t to be commended.

In response to their fear, Jesus has clearly identified himself by telling the disciples to "Take heart," something he has said before and the people do so. He declares, "It is I," with its divine overtones. He says, "Don't be afraid," which he regularly declares in Matthew. (10:26, 28, 31; 17:7; 28:10) So when Peter says, "If it is you..." then he is joining the company of Satan (4:3, 6), the high priest at Jesus’ trial (26:63), and the mockers at the cross (27:40) who all put the same challenge to Jesus. In each case, just like Peter, they want Jesus to do something in order to verify His identity. They want physical proof, something to hang their faith or disbelief on.

Unlike the other times, however, Jesus does grant the request to Peter, but there should be no surprise that matters are not going to end well for him. Jesus knows that we are not intended to walk on water, and if we try, we will find ourselves in deep over our heads and unable to save ourselves. So Peter proves his humanity more than Jesus proving His deity! Jesus acts immediately as Peter cries out "Lord, save me!"

In both accounts, Jesus demonstrates that He is Lord of the wind, waves, water, and sea, all of which are characteristic of chaotic uncontrollable elements in nature. Quite appropriately then, we also notice that at the end of the second account, instead of just wondering what sort of person Jesus is, the disciples worship him as Son of God

So this story is showing us that His disciples now knew that Jesus is the Son of God and maybe His question to Peter “why did you doubt” wasn’t so much about his being able to walk on water as only the Son of God could do but more about doubting the deity of Jesus, His Lordship over all creation, and the elements. Maybe Jesus was telling Peter that He did not have faith in Him........not faith in His own ability to walk to Jesus on the water. Jesus had declared His deity in His assurances when the disciples feared He was a ghost but Peter tested Him. Like Satan, “if you are the Son of God throw yourself from the pinnacle of the Temple” so Peter says, “if you are the Son of God let me walk on the water to you.” Peter wanted that supernatural proof and Jesus allowed him to fall. Peter started to slip under the water because he is a man and men don’t walk on water, they sink. It doesn’t take extraordinary faith to realise that. Peter wanted proof to show his own faith and close relationship with Jesus rather than accepting Jesus for the Son of God and giving Him the glory.  Peter didn’t need to walk  on water to believe Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus did that and maybe we too feel we have to do amazing signs to show our faith when in fact, Jesus simply asks for our faith in Him. He works the miracles, we trust and obey. We pray, He answers, and our faith, although affected by the answer, is not dependent on it. We don’t stop believing Jesus is the Son of God if He doesn’t answer as we would want Him to. And when we do extraordinary things for Jesus or in His name, it is good to remember that God works through weak people to show His strength and power best. Just as He did with Paul, and Israel and Joseph.

In this story for me, more importantly than Peter getting out of the boat, is that Jesus joined them and got into the boat. He had a mission to complete with His disciples and although He had wanted time with His Father, and sent His disciples on alone, He still met with them to be with them, enabling them to complete the task He had asked of them and preach to the people on the other side of the Lake. Jesus is the centre of this story, not Peter, it shows His deity and His mission of salvation as God’s precious Son, the Messiah

So, we can leave walking on water to Jesus. That boat, which symbolises the church, is where we want to be, and it can provide the way for us to reach people in other places, so that disciples of the Son of God can be moving throughout the land! It is where Jesus asks His disciples to be and the place where He joins us to help with the power of His presence in their midst.

So my friends, that is why the message this morning is the unexpected one.......Stay in the boat! Stay where Jesus has asked us to be to serve Him and carry out His purposes, even it is seems mundane and we are part of a group. Trust and obey, for there’s no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey. He will work the miracles if we just trust and obey

Margie Gall at Llanos on 13th August 2017